BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 18
Speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8b, NLT).
Yesterday I talked about how a true believer can’t sin without know what he’s doing is wrong. News flash: neither can an unbeliever. How is that? Because the Holy Spirit calls to all mankind. He “…convict[s] the world of its sin…” The Lord, addressing the church of Laodicea – which many Bible scholars believe represents the church today – warned: “As many as I love, I do convict…” (Revelation 3:19a, YLT).
How many does Jesus love? “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16a, KJV). But that same Revelation passages also says that God chastens – that is, disciplines. So where does that fit in? Hebrews 12:7-8 hold the answer:
“Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as He does all of His children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really His children at all” (NLT). (Check the King James to see an even stronger wording in this passage.) So there you have it: while God sends conviction to the world, He only disciplines those who are truly His.
Ever wondered why evil people seem to literally get away with murder while you get caught every time you take a wrong step? The difference is your family. Your Father loves you too much not to call you on the carpet when you disobey Him. And while you’re going to suffer the consequences of your wrongdoing in the here and now – and possibly even see the suffering of others affected by what you’ve done wrong – those who don’t know the Lord will spend eternity paying for their sin.
Which brings us back to Jesus’ conversation with His disciples. Jesus wanted the disciples and us to understand that people don’t go to hell because they’re bad. Let’s face it: we’re all bad. We all could be better, more obedient followers of Christ every day. The reason the world isn’t overrun with Christians is because the world is overrun with lukewarm Christians, as in that reference to the church of Laodicea yesterday.
So how does any person end up in hell? Because of one single sin: “The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in Me” (John 16:9).
So what separates believers in the world from unbelievers in the world? The blood of Jesus. As Jesus said of His disciples as He prayed for them in His last moments before His arrest: “They do not belong to this world any more than I do” (John 17:16).
Child of God, you don’t belong to this world. You belong to Jesus. Live like it.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 17
“…it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:7-8, NLT).
“…the Advocate won’t come.” Was the Holy Spirit not already in the world? Yes, but prior to Christ’s coming in the flesh, the Holy Spirit only came to specific people for specific purposes.
For example, First Samuel 16:14a says “…the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul.” Saul had been anointed as king, but he wasn’t following God’s leadership. So when the Spirit left him, what had just happened? “…as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on” (I Samuel 16:13). The disobedient king was removed and a new king crowned – a king whose lineage would bring us the Savior.
But after Jesus went to the cross, died, and was resurrected, His Holy Spirit became available to all mankind – not merely on a temporary basis or to specific individuals, but as a lifetime presence within every person who accepts Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. Which is why Jesus told His disciples: “It is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come.”
And what is the work of the Holy Spirit? Jesus said, “He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8b).
No truly born-again believer can sin without knowing it. No truly born-again believer has to wonder whether or not something is right or wrong. As the apostle Paul said in First Corinthians 10:21b: “You cannot eat at the Lord’s table and at the table of demons, too.”
There’s no gray area – it’s either right or wrong and the Holy Spirit lets us know when it’s wrong. We simply choose whether to listen and obey or ignore Him. And every time we ignore Him, we put a little more cotton in our spiritual ears. We put a little bit darker glasses over our spiritual eyes. And it gets easier and easier to tune out His warnings.
So for anyone who’s ever said, “Who’s it going to hurt if I…” – and I’ll be the first one to raise my hand – Paul also said, “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” Even if I can, with a clear conscience, do something that may cause another believer to stumble, I have no business doing it.
More on this tomorrow.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 16
We’re continuing our look at these words of Jesus: “I am the true grapevine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15:1-2, NLT).
“He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” What about bad or unhealthy habits or behaviors? The Lord will prune those out of your life – if you let Him. And no Christian who’s attuned to the Holy Spirit doesn’t know what needs to be pruned. It may take some time and prayer, but He’ll show you what needs to go and even help you release it.
Note, too, who gets pruned: “the branches that do bear fruit.” Believers are to be productive for the Kingdom. Matter of fact, Jesus says a true believer positively will be productive: “Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit” (John 15:5b, NLT).
And if a professing believer isn’t productive? “Anyone who does not remain in Me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned” (John 15:6).
As I said yesterday, I’m not going to debate if there are limits we can push and still be saved. I believe Jesus makes it clear enough without having to expound on it. If a person isn’t producing fruit for the Kingdom, he isn’t saved. There, I said it! Can a true believer go through a dry spell? A time of questioning and unproductivity? I believe so. But the Lord will get that person’s attention and bring them back on track. It’s the professing believer who never changes that I have to doubt.
Fortunately, it’s not my job or yours to sort ‘em out – we’re just to love people like Jesus does. But you do need to examine your own life and decide if you’re growing the Kingdom of God. No Christian’s life is without an effect on the Kingdom: you’re either promoting it or embarrassing it.
Hebrews 4:12a reminds us that “The Word of God is alive and powerful.” “Alive.” Living things grow. Living Christians grow in the Lord, becoming more Christ-like and more productive in the work of the Lord. Likewise for living churches.
If you aren’t growing in the Lord, why not? If your church isn’t growing in the Lord, don’t complain about it – do something about it because you, my friend, are a part of that body and need to work to make it healthy and productive.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 15
“I am the true grapevine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15:1-2, NLT).
Jesus is hammering home to the disciples – and us – the urgency of sticking close to Him. He says His Father “cuts off every branch… that doesn’t produce fruit.” To understand this, we need to go back to what Jesus said earlier: “All those the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away” (John 6:37, NIV).
So did God the Father give Jesus some people to save while leaving out others? Don’t think that for a skinny second. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV).
God gave Jesus every person in “the world,” but only “whosoever believeth in Him” receives His free gift of salvation. The only way to miss out on Jesus is to refuse to accept Him as Lord and Savior.
“He cuts off every branch of Mine that doesn’t produce fruit.” Can a person lose his salvation? I’m not going to argue that point. Why? Because we don’t need to be looking for loopholes as to what limits we can push and still be saved. What we need to be doing is sticking close to Jesus.
And when we do, everything is rosy, right? Wrong. He tells us right here that “He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”
We’re all works in progress – the operative word there being “progress.” If we’re truly seeking to live for the Lord, we’re going to change the way we live. We may not be doing anything bad, but we may not be using our very limited time on this earth for things that grow the Kingdom of God. We’re going to want to do a better job of working for Jesus.
There’s so much more in these two little verses that we’re going to continue our look at them tomorrow. Meanwhile, do something Jesus would do. Give up something you want to do for yourself and use that time to do something for someone who needs some encouragement.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 14
“I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as My representative – that is, the Holy Spirit – He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again” (John 14:25-28a, NLT).
Jesus wants to assure the disciples of His continuing presence in the form of His Holy Spirit. In this brief passage, we see some of the functions of the Holy Spirit:
He teaches us. “He will teach you everything.” We don’t have to wonder whether something is right or wrong. When we listen to the Holy Spirit, He tells us. Which is why James could say with absolute certainty that “it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17). We’re not merely accountable for what we do. We’re also accountable for what we know we should be doing and are not doing. And as we grow in Him, He teaches us to have more love and compassion. To be more like Jesus.
Jesus also told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would “remind you of everything I have told you.” We don’t have Jesus in the flesh speaking to us today, but we do have Him with us as His Holy Spirit, plus we have the Word of the Living Word, the Bible, and although we can’t learn it by sleeping with it under our pillow, the Holy Spirit will recall to us what we have read and studied – particularly on the very occasion when we need those words the most.
Then Jesus says, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.” The Holy Spirit is that gift and He offers us absolute peace if we’ll only listen to Him and receive Him. But realize: a gift is offered, but must be accepted. And to drive this point even further home, Jesus adds, “And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.” When the apartment complex where I was illegally teaching pastors in China was surrounded by military police, I learned the truth of this incredible peace. Instead of being terrified, I had an overwhelming peace. And I will always believe that the Lord miraculously hid the door of that apartment since all the other ones were searched.
“So don’t be troubled or afraid.” We can have continual peace when we trust our Lord and Savior. When we cry out to Him, His Holy Spirit wraps us in His peace and comfort. But, being a Gentleman, He won’t force His peace and comfort on you any more than anything else He has to offer. His peace is a gift and you must willingly receive it. Do you?
He also makes each and every believer this promise: “I am going away, but I will come back to you again.” One day He’s returning for His bride, the Church, the blood-bought saints who have placed their faith in Him. Are you ready? I hope so. Meanwhile, live expectantly. Live lovingly. Live peacefully.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 13
“If you love Me, obey My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it isn’t looking for Him and doesn’t recognize Him. But you know Him, because He lives with you now and later will be in you” (John 14:15-17, NLT).
Jesus had told Thomas and the other disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Remember, after warning Peter that he would deny Him, Jesus wanted to speak words of comfort to His closest followers.
“If you love Me, obey My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.” We can’t separate these two sentences because Jesus is making an important point: those who love Him obey Him, and those who love and obey Him are the ones who will receive the “Advocate.”
Who is this “Advocate”? Jesus provides the answer in the next sentence: “He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.” And then He continues with His explanation of the work of “the Holy Spirit”: “The world cannot receive Him, because it isn’t looking for Him and doesn’t recognize Him.” People can’t find what they aren’t seeking.
But for the true believer, Jesus said, it would be an entirely different story: “But you know Him, because He lives with you now and later will be in you.” Not only would the disciples receive Him, but Jesus said the “Advocate” was already right there with them!
What exactly did Jesus mean by “Advocate”? Our Helper. Our Paraclete (the one who stands alongside). Our Mediator. Our Intercessor.
Our Redeemer. Jesus was and is God. Jesus was and is the Holy Spirit. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are ONE – the Triune God. Imagine! Jesus was telling the disciples that the very Person who stood there among them would “never leave” them but, instead, indwell them!
And He makes that very same promise to each and every one of us living today. When any person repents of his sins and receives Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ Himself comes to live inside that person in the form of His Holy Spirit. “Immanuel” – God with Us – see Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23.
If you truly know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, He lives inside you. He never leaves you. He’s there when you lose your cool, and He’s there when you wipe a friend’s tears away. He’s there when you gossip, and He’s there when you read His Word and talk to Him.
Think about it this way: Let’s say your most Christ-like friend comes to live with you. You want him to feel welcome, don’t you? You won’t ignore him. You won’t spend days without talking to him. You won’t forget he’s there. No, you’ll be on your best behavior because you want him to see you at your best, don’t you?
I bet you’ll even change some of the books you read and TV shows you watch. Maybe even some of the websites you visit. After all, you want to make a good impression on your very dear friend.
But news flash, believer, He’s already moved in and it’s not your most Christ-like friend who’s come to live with you – it’s Christ Himself! When’s the last time you acknowledged this? When’s the last time you thanked Him for His presence? Thank Him and honor Him every day with how you speak, think, and act.
Judy Woodward Bates
Chapter 13 of John’s Gospel ends with Jesus telling Peter, “…before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know Me” (John 13:38b, NLT). Having said this, Jesus moves to comforting the disciples:
“Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know” (John 14:1-4, KJ2000).
Jesus says His house is enormous. And He says He left here to prepare it for us. And what’s the point of preparing it for us unless we’re going to get to live there? Which is why He says, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am” (John 14:3, NLT).
Then He adds: “And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:4).
I love the honesty of Thomas, who is often unfairly called “Doubting Thomas.” See, Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when the resurrected Lord suddenly appeared to them. So when “They told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!" …he replied, ‘I won't believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side’” (John 20:25). The other disciples believed because they saw. Thomas simply wanted to see, too.
So here’s Thomas and the other disciples hearing Jesus tell them that they all knew how to get to where He was going. Thomas merely voices what they all were thinking: “‘No, we don’t know, Lord,’ Thomas said. ‘We have no idea where You are going, so how can we know the way?’” (John 14:5).
And that’s when Jesus gives us these wonderful words: “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
According to Jesus, “No one can come to the Father except through” Him. So either He was telling the absolute truth – which would be impossible not to do when you’ve just identified yourself as the living “truth” – or we may as well throw out every word He said. Yep, you read it right here, folks. Either Jesus is exactly who He says He is or He’s nothing. Nobody.
But if He is who He says He is, His statement leaves no room for debate. Faith in no one or nothing other than the Lord Jesus Christ will get you to heaven. And note, too, that He doesn’t say “through Me” plus anything else. It’s plain and simple: the way to heaven is Jesus.
Don’t argue with a person who tries to tell you there are other ways to heaven or that we’re all going to end up in the same place anyway or that getting to heaven involves believing in Jesus plus doing this or that. Instead, smile your biggest smile and say, “I can only tell you what Jesus did for me.” And then pray for that person. Pray for all who don’t know Him to turn to Him. And live a life that shows others that your faith in Him has made you joyously, wondrously different.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 11
While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all jump from the upper room to the Mount of Olives immediately after Jesus tells Peter that he would be the one to deny Jesus when crunch-time came, John includes four chapters on what else Jesus taught and did before writing: “After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with His disciples and entered a grove of olive trees” (John 18:1).
Unlike Luke who calls this place “the Mount of Olives,” both Matthew 26:36 and Mark 14:32 tell us they “went to the olive grove called Gethsemane.” I find it interesting that one of the Hebrew words from which we get the word Gethsemane means “a place for pressing oil or wine.” Olives were crushed in order to extract their oil. Like the crushed olives, Jesus was under the most tremendous pressure imaginable and His very lifeblood would be extracted as payment for our sin-debt.
Smith’s Bible Dictionary describes Gethsemane as “a small ‘farm,’ situated across the brook Kedron probably at the foot of Mount Olivet… about one-half or three quarters of a mile… from the walls of Jerusalem…” This peaceful place was apparently a favorite spot for Jesus because Luke says, “Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives” (Luke 22:39, NLT). Note the words “as usual.”
Jesus was in the habit of getting away from the hustle and bustle of His ministry so that He and His disciples could have some quiet time together, and I suspect He frequently went there alone to spend time with His Father. We all need a place of rest where we can unwind and regroup. Do you have one?
No one can keep on keeping on unless they take time to relax and refuel. Don’t let Sunday become a day of meeting after meeting. By all means, go to church and truly worship, but use part of the day for downtime. Remember, Jesus Himself told the Pharisees (who were criticizing Him and His disciples or picking and eating grain on the Sabbath) that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27b, NIV).
Our Creator made the Sabbath as a “day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 5:14a, NLT). Spend it accordingly.
We’ll begin a look at John 14-17 tomorrow.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 10
Jesus has given the MANDATUM NOVUM, the New Commandment: “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34b, NLT). Then He tells them that He is going to be leaving them. Peter immediately tells the Lord that he wants to go with Him, but Jesus tells him he can’t. Peter responds with, “I’m ready to die for you!” (John 13:37b).
But Jesus knew Peter far better than Peter knew himself, so “Jesus answered, ‘Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter – before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know Me” (John 13:38).
Peter couldn’t believe the words he was hearing. He thought he was ready to do anything to serve Jesus. But look at what Luke’s Gospel records Jesus saying at this point. I want you to carefully read it and then I’m going to Southernize it so we can get a better understanding of exactly what Jesus said in the original language.
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to Me again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).
And now, the Southern version: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift y’all like wheat. But I have pleaded specifically for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to Me again, strengthen your brothers.”
Satan was out to destroy the faith of every disciple, but of the eleven who were now with Jesus, the Lord knew which was going to blow it: Mr. Over-Confident, the one who said, “I’m ready to die for you!” Not that any of the other disciples showed any outstanding bravery – more on that another day.
But how wonderful that believers today have the presence of the Comforter! When we stay in the Word and maintain a regular line of communication with the Lord – as in prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, and honest-to-goodness worship – we hear from the Holy Spirit far more easily. I guess you could say that doing these things keeps the wax from building up in our spiritual ears.
Peter had to be humbled in order to be ready to become a leader among the disciples and among the Church that would be launched by these believers. What work must God do in your life to prepare you for His service?
Copyright 2018Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 9
After Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet – including the feet of Judas – He identifies Judas as His betrayer, telling him, “Hurry up and do what you’re going to do” (John 13:27b, NLT).
“So Judas left at once, going out into the night. As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, ‘The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into His glory, and God will be glorified because of Him. Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples’” (John 13:30-31, 33a, 34-35).
Here we see the MANDATUM NOVUM, the New Commandment, Jesus gives the disciples on Maundy Thursday during the Last Supper. We also see the establishment of the Lord’s Supper (also known as the Eucharist or Communion): “He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then He broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this to remember Me.’ After supper he took another cup of wine and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and His people – an agreement confirmed with My blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you’” (Luke 22:19-20).
According to Luke’s Gospel, after all this is when the disciples “began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them” (Luke 22:24). Can you believe it! Instead of loving one another and considering himself a servant to the others, each disciple was defending his own belief that he should be the top dog.
If Jesus’ closest followers who walked with God in the Flesh could let their own egos get in the way of their servanthood, seems to me we might have the same problem among believers today. Brothers and sisters, until we’re willing to perform the most menial service in the Name of the Lord Jesus, we aren’t really doing anything for His glory – we’re doing it for our own.
Instead of refusing to help unless you’re in charge, be willing to do whatever is asked of you. Instead of making sure your name isn’t left off that list of volunteers who helped with that project, why not ask that it be excluded? Jesus plainly taught us what our attitudes should be when helping others: “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do…” (Matthew 6:1-2a).
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather stack up rewards in heaven than “treasures here on earth” (Jesus speaking, Matthew 6:19a). Let’s stop competing with and criticizing others – individuals, churches, and denominations – and work together as the family of God to show the world we truly are His disciples.
“Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.”
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 8
Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet and taught them the importance of humility and servanthood, telling them, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you” (John 13:15, NLT). And then He says:
“I am not saying these things to all of you; I know the ones I have chosen. But this fulfills the Scripture that says, ‘The one who eats my food has turned against me.’ I tell you this beforehand, so that when it happens you will believe that I am the Messiah” (John 13:18-19).
“I know the ones I have chosen.” Don’t let this statement confuse you. Jesus was saying that those who truly received Him as Messiah were the “chosen.” As we’ve looked at several times recently, John 3:16 makes it clear that Jesus chose to die for the whole world. But not all the world chooses to receive His free gift of forgiveness. Judas had head knowledge about who Jesus was, but his heart had refused to receive that understanding.
Which is why Jesus quoted from Psalm 41:9, which reads in the NIV: “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me.”
Jesus’ death wasn’t what was on His mind as He spoke to the disciples and washed their feet. His heart was breaking for Judas. We see this in John 13:21: Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and He exclaimed, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray Me!’” (NLT).
Jesus is an individual Savior. He loves each and every person equally. He loved His faithful disciples and He loved the lost disciple Judas. See His grief over Judas and then ask yourself how He grieves over your wrongdoing. I shamefully admit that I have grieved Him many times.
The amazing thing is that He still loves me! And He still loves you. But don’t mistake Jesus’ love for a ticket to heaven. Remember, He loves everyone, including those who are headed for hell unless they repent and receive Him as Lord and Savior. The only way to heaven is a sold-out commitment to Jesus.
And if you believe that as truth, don’t lollygag around about warning other people. You don’t have to spit fire and brimstone to let people know they have a choice to make. Show them Jesus in your words and actions. Tell them about His love for them. Tell them how He loved you enough to save you and can do the same for them.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 7
Yesterday we began our look at Maundy Thursday, the day on which Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, also known as the Eucharist, or communion. It was also the day He established the MANDATUM NOVUM, or “new commandment,” which was: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (John 13:34, HCSB). But what else took place in that upper room?
“It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given Him authority over everything and that He had come from God and would return to God. So He got up from the table, took off His robe, wrapped a towel around His waist, and poured water into a basin. Then He began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:2-5a, NLT).
Don’t miss the timeline of these things, y’all. First, John tells us that “the devil had already prompted Judas… to betray Jesus.” Then he says that Jesus, knowing that “the Father had given Him authority over everything, …began to wash the disciples’ feet.” The Creator of the Universe, the One who, “In the beginning… already existed” (John 1:1a) and had all power, chose to humble Himself and “wash the disciples’ feet.” Why?
Knowing what lay ahead, He urgently wanted to impress upon His closest followers the importance of servanthood. Of humility. But that’s not all. Whose feet did our Lord and Savior wash? His betrayer’s. He didn’t wait until Judas had left to wash the disciples’ feet. He wanted to wash Judas’ feet, too. Again, we have to ask, why?
Jesus had already begun teaching this very thing, as we see in Matthew 13, when He tells the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds. A farmer and his workers planted a crop of wheat, but during the night, the enemy came into his field and sowed weeds all among the wheat and, as the crops grew, the workers realized what had been done and reported it to the farmer.
“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn’” (Matthew 13:28b-30).
Jesus wanted the disciples to see that, as His followers, they were to minister indiscriminately to both believers and unbelievers, true people of faith and those who weren’t at all genuine. He wanted them to understand that while some professing believers were the real deal, there would always be some who were phonies. And what were they to do? Love them.
That assignment hasn’t changed. Believers today are to continue what Jesus taught: love everybody and let Him sort ‘em out in the end. If Jesus can wash the feet of the man whom He knew would betray Him, we have no right to discriminate in demonstrating His love to others.
“Love your enemies! Do good to them” (Jesus speaking, Luke 6:35a).
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 6
The final Wednesday of Jesus’ earthly life is often referred to as “Silent Wednesday” since there is no conversation or teaching of Jesus recorded as having taken place that day. So now we come to Thursday, also called “Maundy Thursday,” one of the days we examined at the beginning of this study. Let’s do a little refresher.
What’s Maundy Thursday, besides the day before Good Friday? The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word MANDATUM, meaning “word in the ceremony.” Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ establishment of the Lord’s Supper and of the MANDATUM NOVUM, or “new commandment,” which was what? As they were gathered around the table, Jesus told His disciples:
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (John 13:34, HCSB).
It was on Maundy Thursday that the Lord established the Lord’s Supper, also known as communion or the Eucharist: “After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:17-20, NIV).
Note when Jesus says: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” It was after the breaking of the bread, which Jesus clearly identified as “My body given for you.” We aren’t merely to remember the Lord’s sacrifice by participating in the Lord’s Supper; we’re to remember it by being willing to be broken ourselves.
Christian singer/songwriter Steve Green so beautifully expressed this in his song of praise, “Broken and Spilled Out” based on the anointing of Jesus as recorded in Luke 7:36-50). I hope you’ll follow this link and listen and read all the lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiM57qZZuGM. Especially notice the change of the words in the chorus. (You’ll have to put up with a brief commercial before the song will begin to play.)
Has your will truly been broken? Can you say, as Jesus did to the Father, “Not my will, but thine, be done”? (Luke 22:42b, KJV). Jesus paid it all, as another great old hymn reminds us.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 5
After an exhausting two-day stretch of teaching in Jerusalem, Jesus and His disciples returned to Bethany. Meanwhile, “…the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill Him. ‘But not during the festival,’ they said, ‘or there may be a riot among the people’” (Matthew 26:3-5, NIV).
Matthew also records: “Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand Him over” (Matthew 26:14-16).
What does Matthew record in between these two happenings? The second anointing of Jesus in Bethany. The first time, He was anointed by Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus – see John 12:3. This time, Jesus and the disciples were dining at the home of Simon the Leper, or as Mark 14:3 words it, “a man who had previously had leprosy” (NLT) – if he were still diseased, he could not have been in contact with other people. Anyway, during the dinner, an unnamed woman comes in and anoints Jesus with oil.
“When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked. ‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor’” (Matthew 26:8-9).
When Mary did the anointing, Judas is the only one recorded as complaining about the waste of the valuable perfume. This time, it seems the entire twelve chimed in. I find it interesting that Judas agrees to betray Jesus right after he sees the valuable perfume “wasted.” Remember, he didn’t object “…because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).
This thief was one of Jesus’ twelve closest supposed friends. This thief was the treasurer for the disciples. This thief ministered alongside the Lord Himself. This thief was someone Jesus still loved.
Jesus loves the unlovable. If He didn’t, I wouldn’t be saved. He knew me at my ugliest and most sinful and yet He still loved me enough to die for me. And I made the smartest decision of my life by accepting His forgiveness.
If you aren’t 100% sure of your salvation, don’t let another skinny minute go by before you talk to Him and confess that and make your commitment 100% real. If He can save “a wretch like me,” I know there is no one beyond the reach of His love and forgiveness.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 4
During His final days, Jesus also told the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. Let’s look at it in its entirety: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left.
Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me.’
“Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?’
He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46, NIV).
Folks, you can make a jillion professions of faith; be sprinkled and dunked a thousand times; and get your name on a hundred thousand church rolls; but none of those things will get you into heaven unless you have truly given your heart and life to Jesus. How did James, the brother of Jesus, put it?
“…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:17b, 18b-19).
Jesus’ sheep know His voice – see John 10:4 – and they obey Him. If your community’s welfare and your church’s support were entirely dependent on you, what shape would they be in? Give Jesus your best. Give Him your all.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 3
Jesus, knowing His crucifixion was near at hand, continued to cram in as much teaching as He could, including the Parable of the Ten Virgins. I hope you’ll read Matthew 25:1-13. Here’s part of it:
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep” (Matthew 25:1-4, NIV).
Jesus begins by saying, “At that time.” What “time”? The day when everyone sees “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30b).
In Jesus’ day, marriages were arranged, often between the parents of the bride and groom or between the bridegroom and the father of the bride without the bride having any say-so whatsoever. Once this agreement was reached, the couple was officially engaged, a status so binding that it required a writ of divorce to break it.
With the engagement set, the bridegroom would begin preparing a home for himself and his bride. Depending on a number of factors, the bridegroom might be weeks, months, or even years away before returning to claim his bride and take her with him. Meanwhile, the bride’s responsibility was to, at all times, be prepared for her bridegroom’s return.
In Jesus’ parable, there are ten brides. Five are, as we would say, sitting on ready; the other five are in no way prepared. What made the difference? “Oil.” In this girl’s opinion, the “oil” represents the Holy Spirit. And what about the “lamps”? Note that all ten would-be brides had “lamps.” Every human is created with a void, a reservoir, that can only be filled by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was saying that even though all are chosen (John 3:16), only those who accept the Holy Spirit are prepared to live with Him in eternity.
Why had only five of the ten filled their lamps with “oil”? “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.” In other words, they procrastinated. They put off what they should have already done, just as many people do today. “Oh, I’ve got plenty of time to give my life to the Lord. I’ll do it one day.”
But that one day came and the five oil-less brides in Jesus’ parable weren’t ready to go with Him. So what did they do? They begged the prepared brides to “Give us some of your oil” (Matthew 25:8a). Folks, no one can get to heaven on somebody else’s faith. Your mama’s faith can’t save you. Your daddy’s faith can’t save you. Jesus is a personal Savior.
When the five oil-less brides realized they weren’t going to get any oil from the five prepared brides, they rushed off to find oil elsewhere. But it was too late. They’d missed out. The Only Source had come and gone. And “The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut” (Matthew 25:10b).
What a horrifying picture – having the door of heaven slammed in your face! But the oil-less brides still tried to get in, pounding on the door and pleading for the bridegroom to open it. “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” Matthew 25:12-13).
That day is coming, y’all, and I believe it’s on the horizon. Are you ready? Who do you know who isn’t ready? Warn them before it’s too late.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 2
Yesterday we took a peek at what Matthew recorded Jesus saying about His return. Let’s see what Jesus tells us through Mark: “Those days will be days of tribulation, the kind that hasn’t been from the beginning of the world, which God created, until now and never will be again! Unless the Lord limited those days, no one would survive. But He limited those days because of the elect, whom He chose” (Mark 13:19-20, HCSB).
Couple of things we need to be clear on: (1) When Jesus returns for His Bride, the Church, He will not set foot on Planet Earth – “we who are still alive,” as First Thessalonians 4:17 tells us, “will… meet the Lord in the air.” We will be instantaneously and miraculously “caught up,” the original text being a word from which we get “Rapture.” (2) When Jesus returns and does sets foot on the earth again, we, His Bride, will be with Him and He will be returning in judgment.
So do we need to live in fear of the “tribulation,” a seven-year period during which believers will be horribly persecuted? If you know you’ve accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, then no, I don’t believe you do. I believe we’ll be outa here before it ever happens. However, there are at least three views on the Great Tribulation: (1) that Christ will return before it; (2) during it; and (3) after it. A careful reading of Revelation, plus the vast majority of knowledgeable Bible scholars, support the “pre-millennial” view that Christ will return before the Great Tribulation. And I toss my humble opinion in with the pre-millennialists.
So if the believers have been “raptured,” who are these Christians who will be persecuted? Those who didn’t accept Christ until after He has taken His Church out of this world. Yes, people will realize they missed the proverbial boat when it comes to the Rapture, and will repent and be saved; but they will pay a terrible price for their allegiance to Jesus.
And what’s this thing about “the elect”? People are so scared of that word! And some not-so-knowledgeable people actually teach that there are certain people destined to be saved, while there are others that are destined to be condemned to hell. If that were so, where does grace fit in? Too, if that were so, what difference would it make how we lived since our ultimate destination was decided before we were ever even created?
So let me give you my “duh” version of what the word “elect” means. Chosen. What does the Bible say? John 15:16 records Jesus as saying, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” On its own, that sounds as though Jesus really did pick out the ones He wanted to save, but that’s not what this verse is saying. Couple it with Jesus’ words in John 3:18 and you get a clearer understanding:
“Anyone who believes in Him [the Son of God – Jesus, speaking of Himself] is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the Name of the one and only Son of God.”
Who is “the elect”? Those who are chosen. Who is chosen? Those who accept Christ’s invitation. It’s really that simple. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (John 3:16), and He is ready and willing to save each and every person who will call on His Name.
Have you called on Jesus? If so, you’re one of “the elect.”
When we think of the Great Tribulation, we don’t need to be concerned for ourselves, but for those who reject Him. And right now this minute, we should turn that concern into ministry. Tell others what's coming and tell them how they can miss out on the Great Tribulation.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 1
Luke 21:20-24 next records Jesus’ warning about the coming destruction of Jerusalem: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains! Those inside the city must leave it, and those who are in the country must not enter it, because these are days of vengeance to fulfill the things that are written. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for there will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (HCSB).
As strange as it may sound, the people of Jerusalem were for the most part excited to see the Roman army surround their city – they fully expected the Messiah to reveal Himself and lead them to an overwhelming victory against “the Gentiles.” Having missed the True Messiah, they hoped in vain for a victory that wouldn’t take place.
However, historians believe that the Christians, those who came to believe in Jesus as the Son of God during His earthly ministry and through the work of His followers after His death and resurrection, understood Jesus’ warning and left the city prior to Rome’s victory.
While Luke records Jesus’ warning concerning the near-future destruction of Jerusalem, he also touched on Jesus’ words concerning a time in the far distant future. Matthew and Mark shed more light on this. Matthew’s Gospel quotes Jesus as saying: “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27).
This verse compares with the opening of the book of Revelation, where John explains what he has been given to write down: “The revelation of Jesus Christ that God gave Him to show His slaves what must quickly take place” (Revelation 1:1).
Did you catch that word, “quickly”? The actual word used here is the same word from which we get the word “tachometer.” While it definitely relates to speed, it doesn’t mean that the event is imminent, but that that whenever it happens, it will happen as fast as “lightning!” No time for repentance, no time for anything – you’ll be caught just as you are.
Which is a very good reason to be looking for His return and living as though you expected it at any moment. I really believe we don’t have long to wait. More on this subject tomorrow.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 31
Continuing our look at Jesus’ teaching on the “signs of the age,” we come to Luke 21:12-19, shorter versions of which are recorded in both Matthew and Mark. He’s already told the disciples that “nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” and that there would be “earthquakes in various places, and famines” (Mark 13:8, HCSB).
But as His disciples press for more detail, He adds a serious warning. Let’s back up a bit and pick up Luke’s version of Jesus’ warning about false messiahs: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘the time is near.’ Don’t follow them. When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. Indeed, these things must take place first, but the end won’t come right away.’ Then he told them, ‘Nation will be raised up against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be violent earthquakes and famines and plagues in various places, and there will be terrifying sights and great signs from heaven. But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you. They will hand you over to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of My name” (Luke 21:8-12).
Talk about your cheery news! On the one hand, the Lord tells His disciples that they will no longer be living when the worst comes to pass: “before all these things.” On the other hand, He tells them that they’ll end up on trial before “synagogues” and in “prisons.” What was the point to all this? Jesus tells them in the very next verse, Luke 21:13:
“It will lead to an opportunity for you to witness.” Shocking as this may seem, folks, this is the bottom line. Whether your trial is through marital difficulties, family struggles, health problems, work-related woes, or whatever, your job in the midst of whatever is happening is “to witness,” period. Note Jesus in no way suggests that we whine, throw a pity party, or otherwise focus on ourselves rather than on Him.
But how can we be expected “to witness” in the middle of our troubles? Here’s a news flash, people: life “is… full of trouble” (Job 14:1). But we who have accepted Christ’s free pardon for our sins are full of Jesus! And He, my brothers and sisters, is “more than enough” (Matthew 25:29) to combat and defeat any “trouble.” Which is why He tells us:
“Therefore make up your minds not to prepare your defense ahead of time, for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict” (Luke 21:14-15).
And then He goes on to warn that: “You will even be betrayed by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. They will kill some of you. You will be hated by everyone because of My name” (Luke 21:16-17).
Having been in a Communist country, I’ve seen and heard this firsthand. Which makes the next verse seem absolutely incredible: “But not a hair on your head will be lost” (Luke 21:18).
Whoa! Jesus just got through saying to these guys: “You will… be betrayed… some of you” will be killed. So how do these two statements add up to Truth? They’ll kill you, but “not a hair on your head will be lost?”
Simple. Jesus thinks like He lives – in the eternal. And we need to follow His example. What it seems we lose here, if it’s dedicated to Jesus, will never “be lost.” It will go with us into eternal security. Nothing that is of real value can ever be taken from us. Nothing that is of real value even belongs to us, because it was bought, paid for, and surrendered to the True Owner, Jesus Christ, the moment we accepted Him as Savior.
So whatever your battle, hang in there. Whatever your obstacle, trust God to remove it, take you through it, or around it. Don’t give up. As He told His disciples, He also tells us: “By your endurance gain your lives” (Luke 21:19).
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 30
As part of His teaching on the “signs of the age,” Jesus warned of the coming destruction of the Temple, an event that was fulfilled less than forty years later. It appears that He is speaking of this as He and His disciples are leaving the Temple complex. This is verified by the next passage, which shows them at the Mount of Olives:
“While He was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the Temple complex, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign when all these things are about to take place?’ Then Jesus began by telling them, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and they will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be alarmed; these things must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains” (Mark 13:3-8, HCSB).
The HCSB notes that, after the word “famines,” many early manuscripts include the words “and disturbances.” September 11, 2001; the “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan; tsunamis and horrible “earthquakes” are all a part of the “birth pains” Jesus refers to in this passage.
“Birth pains” preceding what? The “new heaven and… earth” (Revelation 21:1) that will replace the old ones.
Look, too, at what Jesus says about all those false messiahs who would come along, “saying, ‘I am he.’” Throughout history people have appeared claiming to be the Christ, the Messiah, and have always managed to lead some or many astray. The website I referenced in yesterday’s study records another rebellion that occurred in 132AD, during which a man by the name of Bar Cocheba caused the deaths of more than a million Jews.
In more recently history, who have we seen? Jim Jones. David Koresh. Even Charles Manson. This very day there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, who claim to be the Messiah. Does that sound ridiculous? To you, maybe. But what about to those who’ve never heard the Truth?
Do you realize that, in today’s society, there are children growing up in households who have never seen anyone pray; never heard the name of Jesus – unless it was used blasphemously; never seen or read a Bible; and have no idea of the concept of sin or salvation? And I’m talking here in the U.S. and in countless other so-called Christian nations.
Jesus didn’t request that we spread the Gospel – He commanded it! What are you doing to advance the Kingdom?
“How can they call on Him whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him?” (Romans 10:14a).
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19a).
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 29
The next record of Jesus’ teaching is of the “signs of the age,” as written in Matthew 24:1-35; Mark 13:1-31; and Luke 21:5-38. In the first portion of these passages, Jesus warns of the coming destruction of the Temple:
“As Jesus left and was going out of the Temple complex, His disciples came up and called His attention to the Temple buildings. Then He replied to them, ‘Don’t you see all these things? I assure you: Not one stone will be left on another that will not be thrown down!’” (Matthew 24:1-2, HCSB).
The disciples were in awe of the magnificence of the Temple. The historian Josephus states that the Temple’s stonework was of pure white marble and that some of these stones were forty cubits long. A cubit is about 18 inches, which means that we’re talking single stones sixty feet long! He describes columns twenty-five cubits high made from a single stone. The disciples’ reaction is certainly understandable.
Note, too, that the Temple was far more than a single building, which is why the HCSB stresses it as “the Temple complex.” It consisted of not only the sanctuary, which contained the holy place and the holy of holies, but it also encompassed at least four courtyards – one for priests; one for Jewish men; one for Jewish women; and one for Gentiles – plus covered walkways and massive gateways – all enormous, ornate, and impressive. But Jesus told His disciples that “not one stone will be left on another.” What was He referring to?
Josephus is the author of an excellent account of this timeframe. In 70AD, the Temple was destroyed, just as Jesus had told His disciples it would happen. If you’d like to read further about this, a great webpage gives details at: http://latter-rain.com/Israel/jewar.htm.
The condensed version of that account is this: The Zealots, a group of Jews who were more than willing to use violence to overthrow the tyranny of the Roman government, succeeded in running all the Roman forces out of Jerusalem. Roman emperor Nero didn’t take kindly to this, and sent forces to stop the rebellion. The Jews had completely missed the coming and purpose of the True Messiah, and continued to look for the kind of Messiah they thought they should have, one who would drive out the Romans and make Israel a power to be reckoned with.
So even as Roman soldiers surrounded the city and waited for the people to be starved into surrender, the Jews fought among themselves, dividing into differing factions and saving the Romans a lot of work by doing their bloodletting for them. In the end, the city fell to the Romans, the Temple was utterly destroyed, and over a million Jews died in the process.
In Mark 3:24-25, Jesus told His listeners: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
The United States of America has become a nation that no longer knows where it stands religiously. It is no longer a nation, “under God,” and therefore, a nation no longer under His protection. We who know the only Answer to our needs should be fervently praying for a spiritual revival and awakening in our nation, and in every country on this planet.
The great evangelist, Gypsy Smith (1860-1947), was said to have often locked himself into a room to pray, calling out, “Lord, send a revival, and let it begin in me.” May we all pray likewise.
Judy Woodward Bates
We’re continuing our look at the busy final Tuesday in Jesus’ earthly life. He has spent the day teaching in the Temple and has used the widow’s offering of faith as a valuable lesson for His disciples. In this same timeframe, the Bible records that Jesus fired off what is called the “Seven Woes,” – His repeated condemnation of the “scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” – as we saw in Matthew 23:1-36. He then cries out this well-known passage:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The city who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under wings, yet you were not willing. See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 23:37-39, HCSB).
Jesus was letting His listeners know that He was leaving them, that He would no longer be seen in the Temple, and that He would very soon be leaving His earthly shell to return to His glory. He goes on to say that “you will never see me again until you say, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” the latter portion a quote from Psalm 118:26.
But did Jesus err? After all, the same people who saw Him in the Temple saw Him on the cross only days later. The same “scribes and Pharisees” saw His arrest and condemnation. But they never saw Him as the Son of God, did they? Again, He is addressing these “blind guides[‘]…” (Matthew 23:16) problem of spiritual blindness.
The Spotless Lamb of God was telling these unbelievers that they may not at the moment acknowledge Him as the Messiah, not see Him for who He really is, but that when He comes “with the clouds, and every eye will see Him” (Revelation 1:7a), they will have no choice but to admit who He is.
Philippians 2:7b-11 lays it out plainly, saying: “And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death – even to death on a cross. For this reason God also highly exalted Him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow – of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Paul is quoting from Isaiah 45:23 and 49:18. God had given His Word that every person – the religious leaders, the temple-goers, the Jews, the non-Jews, “every” person, will have no choice but to “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Note that death doesn’t exempt people from this confession. Unbelief doesn’t exempt people from it, either. Nothing will prevent any person who has ever drawn breath from confessing that Jesus is the Incarnation of His Father.
He who died for our sins now “lives to intercede” (Hebrews 7:25) for us in glory!
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 27
Yesterday’s study gave us merely a hint of the burden of the manmade Jewish laws. Before I move on, let me just say that we all need to be very careful to examine our own churches’, our own denominations’ teachings, and be certain that nothing is ever added to or taken away from what the Bible teaches, particularly about salvation, which is totally and entirely by grace:
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9, HCSB).
“Grace” wasn’t in the vocabularies of Israel’s religious leaders – it was all about ritual, money, works, and outward appearances. No wonder Jesus groaned as He looked at the people weighed down by those who should have lifted their burdens. No wonder He groaned as He looked at the city that should have been leading others to salvation.
But there is a bright spot in what Jesus witnessed on this very long Tuesday before His crucifixion: “Sitting across from the Temple treasury, [Jesus] watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. And a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. Summoning His disciples, He said to them, ‘I assure you: this poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the Temple treasury. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed – all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41-44).
First, see who Jesus paid attention to: “a poor widow.” Jesus wasn’t impressed with the “rich people.” Secondly, notice that this person whom Jesus was impressed with was “poor.” Despite all the name-it-and-claim-it preaching we hear, the truth of the matter is that God does not bless with abundant money every person He loves. If that were so, we’d all be rich – John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the world.”
Jesus looked at the contributors to the Temple’s coffers and saw one woman who “gave… out of her poverty.” She literally “put in everything she possessed.”
Was it this huge sacrifice that pleased Him? No. It was the attitude with which she gave it. I don’t believe that the woman was bargaining with God, as in “Okay, Lord, here’s all I have. Now do something big for me.” No, I believe the woman was down to her last two pennies, or whatever coins they literally were, and that didn’t prevent her from going ahead and giving as was her custom.
I seriously doubt this was the first time she’d ever done that – given the last of her money. I believe she regularly gave and never doubted the Lord’s ability to meet her needs. She saw with spiritual eyes the provision that wasn’t seen in the natural. And we need to see likewise.
Are you experiencing a serious illness? A serious financial setback? Marital problem? Any kind of problem? Follow the poor widow’s example. Trust Him with everything. Do this in the good times, and it becomes much easier to also do it in the bad times.
For you see, God doesn’t want our “surplus.” He wants our everything. Give it, not because you’re bargaining for a miraculous healing or financial turnaround or whatever, but simply because you love Him and trust Him with and in everything.
“Man does not see what the Lord sees, for man sees what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart” (I Samuel 16:7b). What does He see in your heart today?
He lives! And because He does, we His children can, also. Live today passionately in love with and fully trusting in the precious, loving Savior.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 26
Yesterday we read the 36-verse passage in Matthew where Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. Among His charges, everything fell into two basic categories: (1) Their concern with outer appearances rather than inner truth; and (2) their deviation from God’s laws to manmade laws that unreasonably burdened the people.
Over and over, Jesus calls these men “hypocrites!” He even goes so far as to refer to them as “Snakes! Brood of vipers!” By using both the term “snakes” and the word “vipers,” He was making the point that they weren’t merely evil (“snakes”), but that their teachings brought death (“vipers”).
Keeping the law couldn’t save a person to begin with, which is why sacrifices had to be continually made for the sins of the people. Having added literally hundreds of their own regulations to the law, they made what was already impossible to be absolutely unbearable.
I own a copy of “The Code of Jewish Law,” and in it are 221 chapters of rules and regulations which have somehow been turned into the clarification and detailing of the Law of Moses. God never put such a burden on the Israelites – their own people did. The leaders who were to show them the Light instead buried it under mounds of manmade regulations. As unbelievable as these will seem, this is how devout Jews are expected to conduct themselves, and this is only a handful of examples:
“…when a man is asleep, the holy soul departs from his body, and an unclean spirit descends upon him. When rising from sleep, the unclean spirit departs from his entire body, except from his fingers, and does not depart until one spills water upon them three times alternately. One is not allowed to walk four cubits (six feet) without having one’s hands washed, except in cases of extreme necessity” (from Chapter 2, “Hand Washing in the Morning”; references Psalm 26:6-7).
“If, God forbid, a fire breaks out on the Sabbath, our Rabbis, of blessed memory, were fearful that if the owner of the house and the members of his family were to engage in saving what they can, they might forget that it is the Sabbath and extinguish the fire, due to their being excited and frightened at the prospect of losing their property. They therefore, decreed that the owner is forbidden to save even those articles which may be handled and carried out into a place where it is permissible to remove them. Only that which is required for the day may be saved…” (from Chapter 85, “If a Fire Breaks Out on the Sabbath”).
“Meat and dairy products may not be eaten or cooked together… If, therefore, meat and dairy products happen to become mixed together, a rabbi should be consulted… Two Jewish acquaintances may not eat at one table, if one eats meat and the other dairy products… (from Parts 5 and 6 of Chapter 46, “Forbidden Foods”).
Imagine trying to keep 221 rules in order to be righteous. Incredible, huh? Now imagine trying to keep 221 chapters full of rules in order to be righteous. No wonder Jesus was so angry with the “scribes and Pharisees!”
On the cross of Calvary, our Savior literally became sin in order for sin to be put to death once and for all. See how Paul worded it in Second Corinthians 5:21 (HCSB): “He (God the Father) made the One who did not know sin (the Lord Jesus Christ) to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Because of Christ’s willing sacrifice, we are no longer under the condemnation of the law, but are free in Christ Jesus.
“God sent His Son… born under the law, to redeem those under the law…” (Galatians 4:4-5).
“If you are led by the Spirit (have received the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ), you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18).
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 25
Once again, we’re looking at Jesus’ busy Tuesday in the Temple. Today let’s see what Jesus had to say about the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. While Mark and Luke each devote three verses to Jesus’ warning, Matthew spends 36 on the same subject! I know this is really long, but let’s see what he said:
“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. Therefore do whatever they tell you and observe [it]. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them. They do everything to be observed by others: they enlarge their phylacteries (small leather boxes containing Old Testament Scripture passages worn on the arms or foreheads) and lengthen their tassels (ornamentation on their robes). They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogue, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi’ (teacher) by people. But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’ because you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one father, who is in heaven. And do not be called masters either, because you have one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock up the Kingdom of Heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You devour widows’ houses and make long prayers just for show. This is why you will receive a harsher punishment. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to make one proselyte (convert to Judaism), and when he becomes one, you make him as fit for hell as you are! Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the sanctuary, it means nothing. But whoever takes an oath by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by his oath.’ Blind fools! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore the one who takes an oath by the altar takes an oath by it and everything on it. The one who takes an oath by the sanctuary takes an oath by it and by Him who dwells in it. And the one who takes an oath by heaven takes an oath by God’s throne and by Him who sits on it. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faith. These things should have been done without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so the outside of it may also become clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You build the tombs of the prophets and decorate monuments of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we wouldn’t have taken part with them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ You therefore testify against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ sins! Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell? This is why I am sending prophets, sages, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues and hound from town to town. So all the righteous blood shed on earth will be charged to you, from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and altar. I assure you: all these things will come on this generation!” (Matthew 23:1-36, HCSB).
Clearly Jesus was infuriated with the religious leaders’ concern for the outward appearance of godliness rather than their inner beings – their hearts, minds, and spirits. We’ll delve further into all of this tomorrow.
For today, remember what we’re moving toward, Resurrection Sunday, when Jesus Christ our Lord suffered and died on the cross for our sins, giving His own sinless life to ransom us from our sinful ones. Thank Him. Praise Him. Live for Him.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 24
We’ve been looking at Jesus’ handling of the scribe who came “to test Him” (see Matthew 22:35). Only Mark records the event in a way which enables us to see the scribe’s sincere interest in Jesus’ teaching, telling us that Jesus told the man, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34a, HCSB). But what does the latter half of that verse record?
“And no one dared to question [Jesus] any longer” (Mark 12:34b).
Folks, the Truth will silence any lie any time. And He will put an end to any questions. Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), answered every aspect of the scribe’s question so precisely as to cause those gathered around and listening not to dare open their mouths! Isn’t He awesome!
The next Tuesday event recorded about Jesus was as He turned the tables on His questioners: “While the Pharisees were together, Jesus questioned them, ‘What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he? ‘David’s,’ they told him. He asked them, ‘How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord:’ ‘The Lord declared to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet?’ If David calls him ‘Lord,’ how then can the Messiah be his son?’ No one was able to answer Him at all, and from that day no one dared to question Him any more” (Matthew 22:41-46).
Don’t you just love it? The Pharisees are, as my Daddy would have said, bumfuzzled! Mark tells us that Jesus began this discourse by asking, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David?” (Mark 12:35). He also records that “the large crowd was listening to Him with delight” (Mark 12:37b).
The arrogant religious leaders looked down on the common folk, so it had to be a tremendous “delight” to see Jesus giving them their “comeuppance.”
Jesus, of course, is quoting Scripture again – Psalm 110:1. How could “the Messiah be” David’s “son”? Looking in the natural, this makes no sense. But with spiritual understanding, we can see the Truth.
Isaiah 11:10 declares: “The Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will seek Him, and His resting place will be glorious.” Who is “Jesse”? David’s father – see Ruth 4:17.
The Lord speaks in Jeremiah 23:5, telling us: “I will raise up a righteous Branch of David. He will reign wisely as King and administer justice and righteousness in the land.”
Only “the Alpha and Omega… the one who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty,” (Revelation 1:8), God Himself, can be both the “Root of Jesse” and the “Branch of David.” Jesus, the only One who could fit this bill, descended from the lineage of David as far as the record of His earthly birth (see Matthew 1:5-16), but preceded Him in that He has always been.
God in the flesh – what an astounding thought! Jesus the God-Man flabbergasted the religious leaders that Tuesday. But wait until Easter Sunday – they ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 23
As we began to look at yesterday, in Jesus’ reply to the scribe’s question: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:36), He quoted from three Old Testament passages: Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Joshua 22:5, and Leviticus 19:18. We saw Deuteronomy; now let’s see what Joshua and Leviticus records:
“Carefully obey the command and instruction that Moses the Lord’s servant gave you: to love the Lord your God, walk in all His ways, keep His commands, remain faithful to Him, and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Joshua 22:5, HCSB).
“Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18).
A scribe spent his life copying the Law of Moses and studying it. He also had the responsibility of interpreting the Law when it came to any sort of legal dispute. So when the scribe who approached Jesus “to test Him” (Matthew 22:35) ended up commending His reply (Mark 12:32-33), no doubt the gathered group of listeners, including the Sadducees and Pharisees, had to be impressed with this unique and wise Prophet.
Likewise, Jesus saw the heart of the scribe and told him: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). The Lord knows every person’s heart. Nothing is hidden from Him. And I believe that Jesus knew this man wanted to believe in Him as the Messiah. Bear in mind, I said this is my opinion; but the point is, He knows all our hearts. Yet only in eternity will we know whether or not this scribe ever followed through and trusted Christ as Savior.
Why do I bring this up? The difference between spending eternity with Jesus or totally separated from Jesus is in following through and trusting Him as Savior. Paul, who didn’t see his imprisonment as a negative but as an opportunity to share the Good News, told King Agrippa of his own experience and of how the Scriptures foretold of Christ’s coming. How did Agrippa respond? “Agrippa said unto Paul, ‘Almost thou persuades me to be a Christian’” (Acts 26:28, KJV).
Folks, “Almost” isn’t good enough! Partial commitment is no commitment at all. Can a person be “almost” faithful to his/her spouse? No! And neither can a person be “almost” a believer – he either is one, or he isn’t. And “almost” will never get any person into heaven. It is “by grace… through faith,” not “almost” faith, that we “are saved” (Ephesians 2:8, HCSB).
But let’s take it one step further. To have “faith” is one thing; to be full of “faith” is another – it’s to be faithful. Be sure your faith is Rock solid in Jesus. Consciously and daily seek to be more than an “almost” faithful follower of the Savior.
Judy Woodward Bates
Jesus has just finished clearing up the Sadducees’ ridiculous question about marriage in the resurrected state. Matthew 22:33 concludes the account by saying: “The crowds… were astonished at His teaching” (HCSB).
Matthew recounts what happened next: “When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together to the same place. And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34-40).
Here’s how Mark records the same occasion: “One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered [the Sadducees] well, he asked Him, “Which is the most important of all?’ ‘This is the most important,’ Jesus answered. ‘Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to Him, ‘You are right, Teacher! You have correctly said that He is One, and there is no else except Him. And to love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more (important) than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that (the scribe) answered intelligently, He said to Him, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God.’ And no one dared to question Him any longer” (Mark 12:28-34).
Jesus, the Living Word, knew the power of the Word. He answered the scribe directly from three Old Testament passages: Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Joshua 22:5, and Leviticus 19:18. Let’s look at the first of these: “Listen, Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Moses spoke these words to God’s people. He went on in the next four verses to add: “These words I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
I hope you’ll go back and read at least Deuteronomy 3:21–6:9. The people are about to enter the Promised Land, and the mantle of leadership is being passed from Moses to Joshua. All the chapters to 34 are God’s instructions to Israel through Moses; then Moses’ death is recorded in Chapter 34.
Tomorrow we’ll look further into Jesus’ conversation with the scribe, but for now, please look back at Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and give yourself a spiritual checkup: How strong is your love for the Lord? Since He is the Living Word, I can assure you it’s in direct proportion to your love for His Word. Do you teach “your children” His Word? Do you share His Word “in your house?” “When you walk [or drive] along the road?” Does your day end (“when you lie down”) and begin (“when you get up”) with the Word? Is your life so wrapped up in, so focused on, the Word that people have no doubt Who you stand for and that your home is dedicated to serving the Lord Jesus Christ?
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 21
Tuesday is turning out to be one long day, isn’t it? Yesterday we looked at Jesus’ teaching about paying taxes to our governing authorities. So significant was this message that it’s recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
All three also record this next conversation. Following the troop of Pharisees and Herodians, the Sadducees decide to take the next shot at Jesus:
“The same day some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came up to Him and questioned Him. ‘Teacher, Moses said, if a man dies, having no children, his brother is to marry his wife and raise offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first got married and died. Having no offspring, he left his wife to his brother. The same happened to the second also, and the third, and so to all seven. Then last of all the woman died. Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven? For they all had married her” (Luke 20:27-33, HCSB).
These sarcastic hypocrites used this ridiculous story to poke fun at Jesus. They believed there was “no resurrection,” and so hoped He would be humiliated in trying to come up with an answer. But the Answer, as always, was ready for them!
“You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Verse 29). May I stop right here and say that, before we look down on the Sadducees, we remember how easily we can end up in the same boat? If we “don’t know the Scriptures,” and “the power of God,” we can be very easily “deceived.” The Word is our protection – know it and use it.
Jesus continued: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. Now concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read what was spoken to you by God: ‘The God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:30-33).
Look at how He stuck it to these religious leaders: “Haven’t you read what was spoken to you by God?” The Sadducees couldn’t stand to lose face in front of the Pharisees, who were no doubt still standing by. And the Pharisees were probably loving this because the Sadducees had probably witnessed the Pharisees’ defeat by Jesus when they asked Him whether or not the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. No one stands a chance against the Almighty!
Which is why grace is such a wonderful gift from the Father. Only because of it do we stand a chance of getting into heaven. Ephesians 2:8 reminds us:
“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift.”
We can’t earn it; can’t buy it; can’t steal it. All we can do is receive it. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 20
We’re still on Tuesday. We now come to the incident where the Pharisees and Herodians (political supporters of Herod) try to schmooze the Messiah. “‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You defer to no one, for you don’t show partiality. Tell us, therefore, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’” (Matthew 22:16b-17, HCSB).
Can you hear the honey dripping off their tongues? They were sugar-coating every syllable, hoping to entice Jesus into speaking out against the Roman government. But what did Jesus tell them? “Why are you testing me, hypocrites? Show me the coin used for tax… Whose image and inscription is this?” (Matthew 22:18-20).
“‘Caesar’s,’ they said to Him” (Verse 21a).
“Then He said to them, ‘Therefore, give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Verse 21b).
Jesus never tries to complicate things. Becoming a Christian isn’t complicated. It’s not faith plus works or anything else. It’s faith, period. The things that come afterwards are merely acts of obedience, ways of honoring the Savior. Neither did Jesus offer a lengthy discourse to answer these “hypocrites’” question.
What did Paul teach us in Roman 13:1-2? “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.”
Just as the above passage tells us, there is no authority without God’s permission. It may not be godly authority, but no one can step into a position of authority unless He allows it. And we are to respect our “governing authorities.” We can’t cheat on our taxes and honor God any more than we can withhold tithes and offerings and simultaneously honor Him. We must do both: “Give back to [our government] the things that are [its], and to God the things that are God’s.” To do otherwise is to dishonor the Savior.
Peter takes it a step further as he tells his readers that they should “honor the emperor” (I Peter 2:17). While that may not sound so earth-shattering, think about who he was referring to. Most scholars agree that, at the time in which Peter wrote his letter, Nero was “the emperor” in power.
And what sort of a person was he? He killed Christians for sport! He was ungodly, evil, and sadistic. And yet, because the Lord had allowed him to have a position of authority for that period in history, Peter told his readers to show him “honor.”
Incredible, isn’t it? Sure kicks it in the head that you don’t have to show respect to an arrogant boss or other authority figure, doesn’t it? It should also change the way we talk about all our politicians, preachers, and other authority figures. People, no matter how much we disagree with a person’s behavior or political stand, our job isn’t to criticize him – it’s to pray for him!
“More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of…
For what are men…
If knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friends?”
(Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Judy Woodward Bates
It’s still Tuesday in Jerusalem and Jesus is still teaching in the Temple complex. He next tells the parable of the Wedding Banquet:
“The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out his slaves to summon those invited to the banquet, but they didn’t want to come. Again, he sent out other slaves, and said, ‘Tell those who are invited: ‘Look, I’ve prepared my dinner; my oxen and fattened cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went away, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the others seized his slaves, treated them outrageously and killed them. The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city. Then he told his slaves, ‘The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Therefore, go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet.’ So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both good and evil. The wedding banquet was filled with guests. But when the king came in to view the guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed for a wedding. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:1-14, HCSB).
Who was the “wedding banquet for?” “His son.” Who was invited originally? Before you answer, “the Jews,” read John 3:16: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jesus speaking).
The original invitation was to “the world,” but the first “invited” guests were the Jews. What was their response? “They paid no attention and went away.” Folks, we’re either moving closer to Jesus, or away from Him – there’s no stopping point in this universe.
Jesus goes on in His parable to remind them how they treated the prophets that He’d sent to share His message, to foretell of His coming. And He gives His reaction: “The king was enraged, so he sent out his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned down their city.” What happened only forty years after Jesus told this parable? The Roman army leveled Jerusalem to the ground.
Jesus says that “both good and evil” were invited. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Please don’t miss the significance here. We, Christ’s “slaves,” are to carry His invitation to “the world,” not judge who truly received Him or not. We are to deliver the Message – Jesus will sort it out from there.
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25:31-33).
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 18
Tuesday in Jerusalem continues and Jesus is still teaching in the Temple complex. His next parable is of the Vineyard Owner, one so significant that Matthew, Mark, and Luke record it for us. Get back into your visualization mode and remember the mixed crowd gathered around as Jesus taught them. Here’s how Mark 12:1-12 records Jesus:
“A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug out a pit for a winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went away. At harvest time he sent a slave to the farmers to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard from the farmers. But they took him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent another slave to them, and they hit him on the head and treated him shamefully. Then he sent another, and they killed that one. [He] also [sent] many others; they beat some and they killed some. He still had one to send, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenant farmers said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. Therefore, what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the farmers and give the vineyard to others. Haven’t you read this Scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected – this has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord and is wonderful in our eyes?’”
Mark ends his account with a sidebar comment: “Because they (the religious leaders) knew He had said this parable against them, they were looking for a way to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowd. So they left Him and went away” (HCSB).
Matthew relates Jesus’ audience’s answer to His question: “‘What will he do to those farmers?’ ‘He will completely destroy those terrible men,’ they told Him, ‘and lease his vineyard to others farmers who will give him his produce at the harvest’” (Matthew 21:40-41).
Bear in mind that their answer came before Jesus quoted Psalm 118:22-23 concerning the “stone that the builders rejected.” Once they heard it, they clued in as to who the “farmers” were, and they would have loved to have taken back their own answer!
Look back at our parable. All the property in it belongs to One Owner. Note secondly that there are two groups of people: the “farmers” and the “slaves.” What’s the difference? While the “farmers” were on His land, they weren’t His property. The “slaves,” however, belonged to Him just as much so as “the vineyard.”
The Jews were to be the Light to the world. The Lord entrusted them with His message and they failed to share it, even after He sent prophet after prophet to steer them in the right direction, to point them back to Jehovah.
Finally, He sent His own Son, and they “rejected” Him, too. Even though His coming was foretold throughout these listeners’ lifetimes, their blind religious leaders were leading them into darkness – and they were following. Yes, some did open their spiritual eyes and ears, recognize Him, and receive Him; but the majority chose to turn away. These “farmers” would be replaced: “He will come and destroy the farmers and give the vineyard to others.” The Gentiles were given the opportunity to carry Christ’s message.
The Israelites spent forty years wandering in the wilderness by their own choice of disobedience. The Jews of Jesus’ time spent forty years from the time of Christ’s crucifixion until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Roman army.
Do you not think that God can raise up a new people to carry out His message if we choose not to? Remember what He said as He entered Jerusalem: “If they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out!” (Luke 19:40).
If we “keep silent,” a new people will “cry out” His message. Don’t wait until it’s too late to be one of His messengers.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 17
It’s still Tuesday in Jerusalem and Jesus is teaching in the temple complex. Who could stop Him? The religious leaders had already questioned His authority and miserably failed at getting an answer out of the Messiah. Why do you suppose Jesus didn’t point-blank say who He was? Because even as He walked the earth as the God-Man, it required faith to believe who He was (and always will be and always has been). The religious leaders lacked that faith – they were quite literally the “blind leading the blind.”
What did Jesus teach on that Tuesday? I hope you’ll read all three of these passages: Matthew 21:28 – 23:36; Mark 12:1-44; and Luke 20:9 – 21:4. In these we learn these three parables:
The first parable, the Two Sons, goes like this:
“But what do you think?” (Matthew 21:28a). Before I go any further, this is what I ask you to do, and it’s what Jesus asked His audience to do: “think.” Visualize Jesus as the exciting, dynamic Teacher He was (and is). “Think” of the enthusiasm on His face; the love; the compassion. I can see intense expression in His eyes, indicating at times, humor; at other times, anguish; and at others, the righteous indignation only He can fully comprehend. I hope you see Him and hear Him as He teaches us through this parable:
“A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go, work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I don’t want to!’ Yet later he changed his mind and went. Then the man went to the other and said the same thing. ‘I will, sir,’ he answered. But he didn’t go. Which of the two did his father’s will? ‘The first,’ they said. Jesus said to them, ‘I assure you: tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you! For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. Tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him, but you, when you saw it, didn’t even change your minds then and believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32).
See the crowd gathered around Jesus. See the delight on the faces of the common people on whom the religious leaders looked down, and over whom they lorded themselves. See the faces of the priests and scribes and Pharisees as Jesus dares speak the truth – that “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before” them. The scene is charged with electricity.
Who was the first son, the one who said, “I don’t want to” go work in the vineyard? Jesus said, “Later he changed his mind and went.” Do you know what the word “repent” literally means? To changed one’s mind. This first son represents any person who, like all believers, disobeyed and rejected Christ’s calling; “Yet later,” realizing his disobedience, repented and became a productive worker for the Kingdom.
And the second son? “‘I will, sir,’ he answered. But he didn’t go.” Lip service. Like the religious leaders, he had voiced his own piety, his own willingness to serve, but he’d never done a thing to back it up. I think two groups could fall into this category: people who claim to have trusted Christ as Savior but have never truly asked Him into their hearts; and people who actually worship some form of religion rather than worshiping the Savior – they think they have all they need and don’t need Jesus.
In either case, Jesus spells things out quite clearly. Even delayed obedience is far better than lip service.
This very day, a great harvest is waiting for workers to come and gather it in. People all over the world, including hundreds upon thousands right here in the U.S. of A., need someone to tell them the Good News. They’ve heard of Jesus, but they’ve never been introduced to Him. Who will meet Him today because of your faithfulness?
“Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest” (John 4:35b).
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 16
It’s Tuesday in Jerusalem and Jesus has returned to the Temple complex the day after throwing out all the moneychangers. Three of the Gospels record what the religious leaders had the audacity to ask:
“One day (Tuesday) as He (Jesus) was teaching the people in the Temple complex and proclaiming the Good News, the chief priests and the scribes, with the elders, came up and said to Him: ‘Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?’ He (Jesus) answered them, ‘I will also ask you a question. Tell Me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?’ They (the chief priests, scribes, and elders) discussed it among themselves: ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, “From men,’ all the people will stone us, because they are convinced that John was a prophet.’ So they answered that they did not know its origin. And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things’” (Luke 20:1-8, HCSB).
Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts are interesting in that these give a more vivid picture of what went on among the religious leaders: “They began to argue among themselves” (Matthew 21:25 and Mark 11:31).
Jesus was – and is – brilliant! Instead of trying to explain Himself to these pompous holier-than-thous, He simply asked them one question: “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?”
And these self-proclaimed know-it-alls’ feeble response was merely to say, “We don’t know” (Mark 11:33). You see, these men were full of questions, but they didn’t know the Answer!
What had these same men said to John? “The Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him (John), ‘Who are you?’” (John 1:19). In Verse 24, John goes on to identify these “Jews from Jerusalem” by saying: “They had been sent from the Pharisees.” The entire religious hierarchy was clueless!
As they questioned Jesus in the Temple, they were looking into the face of the Answer and had no idea who He was. Look back over our entire Luke passage for today. What were these men so concerned about? Appearance! They weren’t so much concerned with whether they were right or wrong; or who Jesus was; or even who John had been. They just wanted to look good.
Brothers and sisters, we can learn so much from this one example out of the life of Jesus. When people question your faith or anything else about you, you don’t have to launch into some huge explanation – you simply need to stand firm, knowing that you have the Answer to every question.
Isaiah 53:7 says of the Messiah: “Like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth.” We don’t always have to have a reply. Sometimes our very best response is absolute silence. There’s a huge word in that for someone reading this today.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 15
Jesus cursed the fig tree on Monday. On Tuesday as the disciples and the Lord were returning to Jerusalem after spending the night once again in Bethany, they came upon the fig tree. Here’s Mark’s account:
“Early in the morning, as they were passing by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Then Peter remembered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed is withered’” (Mark 11:20-21, HCSB).
Don’t miss the important point here, folks. “The fig tree withered from the roots up.” Ever heard people say that they intend to get to “the root of the problem?” That’s what Jesus always does. He knew that the problem didn’t lie in the leaves or the branches, but in the root itself.
So when He cursed the tree, it died completely – it didn’t simply wither above the ground. It didn’t revive and put out fruit the next season. Jesus spoke to the tree in Mark 11:14: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And Verse 20 assures us that “no one ever” would.
Branches produce according to the health of their root. The root is the supply line, the anchor, and the base or beginning from which the rest stems. Think about all this as the Christian life and look at the beautiful picture of John 15:1 as Jesus says: “I am the true vine… a branch is unable to produce fruit unless it remains on the vine” (John 15:1, 4). “The root of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:10) is the One and Only “true vine.”
So let’s break it down into increments: (1) Jesus as the Supply Line. He “will supply all your needs” (Philippians 4:19); (2) Jesus as the Anchor. Hebrews 6:19 calls Jesus “a sure and firm anchor for the soul;” and (3) Jesus as the Base or Beginning. First Corinthians 3:11 reminds that “no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid – that is, Jesus Christ.”
What does all this have to do with the cursing of the fig tree? Folks, if the root’s bad, the whole plant is bad. And if your root, your anchor, your base, your supply line, is anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ, it isn’t going to last. So many people find pleasure in aligning themselves with temporal things, but often that pleasure is shorter lived than the things they once found so attractive.
In cursing the fig tree, Jesus wanted us to see that no “other foundation” will last. He wanted us to see how quickly the things of this world can be taken from us; how quickly the wellspring of anything a person is trusting in other than Jesus can dry up and vanish.
There is but One that is everlasting. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, and He tells us still today: “Whoever drinks from the water I give him will never get thirsty again – ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life” (John 4:14).
When you stay rooted in Jesus, you find satisfaction that isn’t circumstantial or temporary. You find everlasting contentment in being His and using your life to bring glory to His Name.
“If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink!” (Jesus speaking, John 7:37).
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 14
The cursing of the fig tree was a Monday event. What happened next during that final week before the crucifixion? We look to Matthew and Mark for our first answer:
“Jesus went into the temple complex and drove out all those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves. And He said to them, ‘It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you are making it a den of thieves!’” (Matthew 21:12-13, HCSB).
Mark 11:15-18 adds more detail: “They [the disciples and Jesus] came to Jerusalem [having spent the night in Bethany], and He went into the temple complex and began to throw out those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves, and would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple complex. Then He began to teach them: ‘Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves!’ Then the chief priests and the scribes heard it and started looking for a way to destroy Him. For they were afraid of Him, because the whole crowd was astonished by His teaching.”
Jesus was sickened by the “business-as-usual” going on inside the walls of the temple. You see, it was nearly impossible for those who lived very far out from Jerusalem to lug an animal all the way to the temple and the poor creature make it there passable as “spotless” and suitable for sacrifice. But there was more to it than just this one problem.
Businessmen, seeing the need for conveniently purchasable sacrifices, set up shop within the temple complex to sell animals. Too, like going into a foreign country, the temple had its own coinage and it was necessary to exchange your own money for the temple’s in order to give your tithes and offerings in the proper currency.
These two needs – money and animals – made temple goers easy pickings for these shopkeepers. The coins would be exchanged at ridiculously exorbitant rates and the animals would be sold at prices much higher than their ordinary value. It was the ol’ business law of supply and demand in action, but the trade was going on inside the walls of God’s house, and the profits were far beyond anything reasonable.
For example, at the current exchange rate, I should be able to walk into any bank who handles foreign currency and exchange 20 American dollars for slightly less than 14 British pounds. At temple businessmen rates, my exchange rate might be more like 7 pounds – they were making a downright dishonest amount of profit, and using the temple as a place of commerce rather than worship.
Why didn’t the religious leaders put a stop to all this? Simple – they got a cut of the profits. And not only that, they were the ones who declared an animal fit or unfit for sacrifice. Most folks had learned that it was pointless to show up with their own animal anyway, because the priests were going to declare it unfit so that the person had to either forego his sacrifice – a thing he would never have done if he could possibly avoid it – or purchase another animal from the temple tradesmen.
Into this insane cacophony walked the Savior – and let Himself be heard above all the racket: “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves!” He was quoting Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.
Note what He said: “a house of prayer for all nations.” First, the Jews had known from the get-go that they were to be the Light to all nations. Secondly, all this commerce was going on in the outer court, the court of the Gentiles, and non-Jews who wanted to worship Jehovah were expected to do so amid all that racket.
Finally, though, think back to the original problem I mentioned: “business-as-usual.” That’s what was going on inside the temple. No fervor of worship. No concern for the lost. No concern for the believer. No worship of the Creator. Just “church as usual,” – same old, same old.
Is the church today any different? Since the church is me and you, made up of each and every individual believer, your answer should be weighed according to your own worship – not mine; not your corporate church body’s; not anyone else’s but your little ol’ self. Jesus is never pleased or honored with “business-as-usual.” Make certain your worship experience is fresh and new every morning.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 13
There are at least 32 references to fig trees within the Bible. In addition to plenty of Old Testament passages, the New Testament speaks of the fig tree all the way from Matthew to Revelation. Let’s look at Jesus’ parable from the Gospel of Luke:
“A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?’ But he (the worker) replied to him, ‘Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will bear fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down’” (Luke 13:6-9, HCSB).
Mark records another time when a fig tree was the topic of Jesus’ parable: “Learn this parable from the fig tree: as soon as its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near” (Mark 13:28).
In Luke 21:29-30 we read Luke’s account of the same parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they put out [leaves], you can see for yourselves that summer is already near.”
James asks the rhetorical question, “Can a fig tree produce olives?” (James 3:12). The book of Revelation compares the falling of the stars at the opening of the sixth seal with “a fig tree drop[ping] its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind” (Revelation 6:13).
I said yesterday that the fig tree Jesus cursed represented religious Israel. Although the reference is to an olive tree rather than a fig tree, Paul’s statement in Romans 11:17 is relevant to today’s study. He says of non-Jews who have become believers in Jesus that they, “a wild olive branch, were grafted in.” There is only one body of Christ, and it is made up of believers, period, whether Jew or Gentile.
So let’s switch to post-resurrection. The only true worshipers of Jehovah are no longer the Jews, but those who have recognized Him in the form of His Son Jesus Christ, and have believed on Him as Messiah. Looking at the “fig tree” from this viewpoint, what do we see? (1) The accountability of every believer to produce “fruit,” and (2) the patience of the Lord in giving us opportunity after opportunity to get busy for His Kingdom.
Patience, yes, but not forever. Just as with the “fig tree” in the Luke 13 parable, Jesus may delay, but He will not ignore. He has and will continue to “come looking for” every believer’s “fruit.”
May I ask you a question: What is He finding in your life?
Judy Woodward Bates
We’ve covered the events of Palm Sunday and now we move to Monday. We’re going to look at two passages, one from Matthew and one from Mark:
“Early in the morning, as He (Jesus) was returning to the city (to Jerusalem after spending the night in Bethany), He was hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He went up to it and found nothing on it except leaves. And He said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again! At once the fig tree withered (which may mean that, in retrospect, the disciples realized that the tree had immediately begun to die – see the Mark passage)” (Matthew 21:18-19, HCSB).
“The next day when they (Jesus and the disciples) came out from Bethany, He was hungry. After seeing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, He went to find out if there was anything on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’ And His disciples heard Him… Earl in the morning (on a later date), as they were passing by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up” (Mark 11:12-13, 20).
What’s the significance of “the fig tree”? I’m not too up on horticulture, but this is one thing I’m familiar with. On the back of his house, my paternal grandfather built what he called “the wash room,” a glassed-in sunroom of sorts where my grandmother used to hang her clothes to dry. The concrete floor was apparently poured right over the stump of a fig tree and even still today, that tough ol’ tree fights its way up out of the ground at the end wall of the wash room.
Right now it’s just a bunch of bare sticks. But as spring progresses, tiny knots will begin to develop along those branches. Soon those little nodules will be identifiable as miniature figs; and just as quickly, leaves will sprout around them to cover and protect them – rich green leaves that become bigger than a man’s hand.
You see, unless it’s past growing season – that is, the figs have already been harvested – if you’ve got leaves, you oughta have figs. Did Jesus really need to go and “find out if there was anything on” the tree? Hardly. What He did need to do was pump all the lessons He could into the disciples around Him in the limited time He had left to walk among them in human form.
See, that “fig tree” was a phony. If it “was not the season for figs,” then it wasn’t the season for fig leaves, either! That tree had the appearance of productivity, but there was no “fruit” with which to back up its appearance.
“The fig tree” represented Israel. In 1948 when Israel was reformed as a nation, their national flag was emblazoned with a fig tree, although today’s flag features the Star of David. Couple this with Judges 9:11’s description of the fig tree’s “sweetness and… good fruit” and we can see the spiritual lesson in what the Lord did. He showed the disciples the fate of the person, the people, or the nation who did not bear “good fruit” for His glory.
Specifically, “the fig tree” represented “religious” Israel – the temple-goers and leaders who were so piously working their way to heaven through adherence to the stringent manmade regulations added onto to God’s instructions. These, Jesus told a parable about in Luke 13.
But did Jesus curse Israel? No. Jesus, after all, came to earth as an Israelite. We read in Romans 11:7 that “Israel did not find what it was looking for.” Nonetheless, the Door is still open for the Jews, or anyone who is lost, to be saved. Yet the choice still remains for every individual: choose blessing (Jesus), or cursing (reject Him).
We’ll look at more about this tomorrow.
Judy Woodward Bates
And now we come to Palm Sunday. Let’s see what each Gospel has to tell us about this occasion:
“When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, Jesus then sent two disciples, telling them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you. At once you will find a donkey tied there, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you should say that the Lord needs them, and immediately he will send them’” (Matthew 21:1-3, HCSB).
Mark’s and Luke’s accounts are the same as Matthew’s, except they don’t mention the “colt” being with its mother. John is so enthused with what happened on Palm Sunday that he skips right over Jesus’ method of transportation and opens his account with: “The next day, when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting, ‘Hosanna! (a term of praise that comes from a Hebrew word meaning ‘save’) Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!’” (John 12:12-13).
God is so awesome! These people, not even understanding who Jesus really was, quoted Scripture – Psalm 118:25-26 – as they honored Him and hoped for His overthrow of Roman authority. All four Gospels record this.
After telling about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, John backs up and adds: “Jesus found a donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear no more, daughter of Zion; look! Your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt’” (John 12:14-15). Both John and Matthew remind their readers that Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem was prophesied long before – see Zechariah 9:9.
So many wonderful passages are within the Palm Sunday records. John concludes by quoting what “the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look – the whole world has gone after Him!’” (John 12:19). If only “the world” worshiped Jesus!
Dr. Luke adds what the Pharisees said to Jesus as the crowd kept up the ruckus: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples [meaning all those in the crowd who were worshiping Him]” (Luke 19:39).
And don’t you just love Jesus’ answer: “I tell you, if they were to keep silent, the stones would cry out!” (Luke 19:40).
Folks, don’t let no rock get your blessing! Thank Him for all He’s done. Thank Him for what He’s doing and going to do. Thank Him that you can trust Him with your now and forever.
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 10
Yesterday we left off at Luke 19 where Jesus has told the Parable of the Ten Servants – see Luke 19:11-27. “After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of His disciples. As He came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, He sent two disciples ahead” (Luke 19:28-29, NLT). We’ll get back to that tomorrow.
Meanwhile, in John 12:3, we see Lazarus’ sister Mary anointing Jesus in the home she shares with her sister Martha and with their brother Lazarus, the man whom Jesus had raised from the dead – see John 11. It’s important to note there are two accounts of a woman anointing Jesus. Jesus was also anointed in the home of Simon, also in Bethany, but on that occasion by a “sinful” woman who isn’t otherwise identified. Her act is recorded in Matthew 26:6-7, Mark 14:3, and also Luke 7:37-38.
When you combine all three passages, you see that two passages say the Lord’s head was anointed while one says it was His feet. Who’s right and who’s wrong? The Bible is inerrant. The woman anointed both his head and his feet.
At Lazarus’ home, what was supposed to be a peaceful dinner with friends with Jesus as the honored guest was disrupted by a group of rubberneckers. “…a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of Him but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in Him” (John 12:9-11).
I have no doubt that Lazarus was the most dedicated believer you could ever imagine. He didn’t walk into the marketplace or anywhere else without shouting, “Let me tell you about my Jesus!” And his enthusiasm won him lots of friends, right? Yes and no. Clearly, Lazarus’ witness won many to the Kingdom, but it also incited so much jealousy among “the chief priests” that they actually “made plans to kill Lazarus,” as well as Jesus.
When you get serious about sharing Jesus, the enemy gets serious about stopping your plans. Problem is, most of us have so little impact for the Kingdom of God that the devil isn’t worried one bit about what we’re doing.
So how about we shake things up? Let’s worry more about serving God than keeping our names on the “A” list. Jesus didn’t just raise Lazarus from the dead. He raised me and you and every single person who believes on His Name.
“But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead” (Ephesians 2:4-5a, NLT).
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 9
In the last two days, we’ve looked at Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus just prior to Palm Sunday. Let’s move on and see what Luke has to tell us.
If we look back, though, we see the correlation between the different Gospel writers’ timeline. Matthew 20:29 records Jesus meeting the two blind men “as they [He and His disciples] were leaving Jericho” (HCSB). Mark 10:46 skates over Jesus’ time in Jericho, simply stating: “They came to Jericho.” However, Mark’s account continues in the same verse: “And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples… Bartimaeus… was sitting by the road.” Luke records a different occurrence in Jericho: “He entered Jericho and was passing through” (Luke 19:1). Not much in that, is there? But Luke goes on to say: “There was a man named Zaccheus” (Verse 2).
Anyone who spent any time in Sunday school as a child knows the song about the “wee little man,” Zaccheus. Too short to see over the crowd, he “climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus” (Verse 3). Zaccheus, a rich tax collector, did this undignified act because his desire to see Jesus was greater than his concern for what people would have to say about his actions. Oh, that we had such a mindset!
When Zaccheus met Jesus, he immediately repented, and here’s where we read a familiar statement of Jesus: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Verse 10).
What next? Verse 11 says: “As they [the disciples and the crowd around them] were listening to this, He [Jesus] went on to tell a parable.” This “parable” was about a king who had ten slaves – and remember, the word “slaves” is far more correct than the word “servant.” How come? Because a slave is owned by his Master, and we who have been bought by the blood of the Lamb are owned by Him – read First Corinthians 6:19b-20a.
The king was leaving on a journey and, before going, placed into the care of each of his slaves a mina, a Greek coin worth about 100 days’ wages. He then instructed them to, until his return, work (turn a profit) with what he’d entrusted to them. He comes back, calls his slaves to him, and asks each to give an account of their management. Each slave has earned a different amount of return for their efforts, and each is rewarded accordingly.
Finally, the master comes to a slave who has done nothing to advance the king’s holdings, but instead says of his mina: “I have kept it hidden away in a cloth” (Verse 20). The master is furious, and removes the mina from the slave who had accomplished nothing, and gives it to the one who has earned ten minas through his diligence.
Of course, the Lord Jesus is the Master and believers are His slaves, so pay close attention to how Jesus concluded this lesson: “I tell you, that to everyone who has [proven diligent in his work], more [opportunities] will be given; and from the one who does not have [has not worked for the Kingdom], even what he does have [or thinks he has] will be taken away” (Verse 26). And He goes on in Verse 27 to clarify that there are those among His “slaves” who really aren’t His. He calls them “these enemies of Mine, who did not want Me to rule over them” and orders that they be “slaughtered.”
From this fiery apologue we see a shift back to Jesus’ and the disciples’ journey: “When He had said these things, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As He approached Bethphage and Bethany [en route to Jerusalem], at the place called the Mount of Olives, He sent two of the disciples” (Verses 28 and 29) ahead to bring Him the colt on which He would make His triumphal entrance.
So let’s recap thus far: Matthew tells us of two blind men; Mark focuses on one of these, Bartimaeus; and Luke recounts Zaccheus’ transformation upon meeting the Savior. After Zaccheus has repented, Jesus tells the parable of the Master and slaves, homing in on the requirement that slaves must serve their Master.
The blind men and Zaccheus immediately began to follow Jesus; and following is more than tagging along – it’s faithful service. How about you? God has entrusted you with His Kingdom’s work. Don’t deny, hide, or ignore the gifts and talents He’s given you. Develop them and use them for His glory.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 8
I hope by now you’ve read our starting background passages: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-44; and John 12:12-19. These are all accounts of Palm Sunday.
Yesterday we saw how Jesus, even as His greatest hour of suffering approached, wasn’t focused on Himself, but on others. We read Matthew 20:30, 34 which told us: “There were two blind men sitting by the road… Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they could see, and they followed Him” (HCSB).
But let’s now look at Mark’s account of the moments just before Palm Sunday. James and John had come to Jesus and asked, “Allow us to sit at Your right and at Your left in Your glory” (Mark 10:37). Obviously these two were still clueless as to what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus because He answered their request by saying, “You don’t know what you’re asking…” (Verse 38).
The Lord went on to give this explanation of discipleship: “…whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave [or servant] to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life – a ransom for many” (Verses 44-45).
As much as we love to hear all the “name-it-and-claim-it” preachers, all the “God-wants-you-to-have-lots-of-stuff” promoters, the truth is that, while God may bless you with abundant material possessions, His purpose in doing so is to provide you with more to use for blessing other people.
Moving right along, we come to Mark 10:46-52, the final verses before Mark’s account of Palm Sunday begins. It tells us, “[Jesus and the disciples] came to Jericho… Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road” (Verse 46).
Jesus gave sight to Bartimaeus. Why? Please don’t miss these seven vital steps, folks: (1) He called out to Jesus: “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!” (Verse 47). (2) He kept on calling: “Many people told him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more…” (Verse 48). (3) His persistence paid off: Jesus responded, telling His followers, “Call him” (Verse 49). (4) Jesus’ disciples obeyed, calling – that is, going to “the blind man” and getting him to come to the Savior, the job He continues to assign to every believer even today. (5) Bartimaeus knew what he wanted, and when Jesus asked, Bartimaeus replied: “I want to see!” (Verse 51). (6) Jesus gave the man what he had requested: “Go your way… your faith has healed you” (Verse 52a). (7) Bartimaeus’ “way” became the “way” of Jesus. “Immediately he could see and began to follow [Jesus]” (Verse 52b).
Imagine for a moment if Bartimaeus had used logic to solve his problem. “Hmmm. I’ll ask this Miracle Man to provide me with servants and money. Then I’ll no longer have to beg.” But Bartimaeus’ request was spoken in “faith,” believing that the Son of Man was indeed the Son of God, and that He had the power to heal Him.
Bartimaeus also came to the Savior because other believers obeyed Christ’s command and brought him to the Lord. We also see in comparing today’s study with yesterday’s that Mark’s account only covers one of the two blind men that Matthew records as being healed. And Mark’s account is the one that identifies one of them by name, Bartimaeus, which, by the way, means, as Verse 46 clarifies, “son of Timaeus” – “Bar” meaning “son of.” (Read Matthew 16:17, in which Jesus calls Simon Peter, “Simon Bar-Jonah,” because Simon Peter’s father’s name was Jonah.)
Note, too, that the other blind man recorded in Matthew’s Gospel was saved just as was Bartimaeus. But, as in the Gospels’ accounts of Joseph of Arimathea requesting the body of Jesus after His crucifixion, only one – John – tells us that “Nicodemus also came” (John 19:39). We aren’t always going to receive any earthly commendation or notice for our work for the Kingdom, but I can promise you – and far more importantly, Jesus promises a reward:
“Look! I am coming quickly [literally meaning, when He comes, it will be an instantaneous happening], and My reward is with Me, to repay each person according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12).
Whatcha been doing for Jesus?
I pray this study is already blessing you. We’ll dig a little deeper tomorrow.
Judy Woodward Bates
I realize that Easter Sunday seems a long way away, but there’s a whole lot of ground I want to cover before we get there. Let’s begin today with a look at the final week of Christ’s life on earth. We’ll be taking Scripture from all four Gospels and I would strongly urge you to read all four accounts.
Please make time today to read these four passages: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-44; and John 12:12-19. I know this is a lot of ground to cover, but as we get further into our study, you’ll see more and more how worthwhile the time you’ve spent has been.
All four of these passages describe what we now call Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem only days before His Friday crucifixion. What was going on just before Palm Sunday? Let’s see what Matthew shows us:
“While going up to Jerusalem, Jesus took the 12 disciples aside privately and said to them on the way: ‘Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem. The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death’” (Matthew 20:17-18, HCSB). This statement is the third record in Scripture that Jesus foretold His death.
After this, beginning in Verse 29 of Chapter 20, Matthew records that “as they [Jesus and the disciples] were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. There were two blind men sitting by the road. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out… moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they could see, and they followed Him” (Verses 29-30, 34).
A couple of “foods for thought” here: All of us were spiritually blind before we were touched by the Savior. How come so often we don’t call out to Him until we fear He is “passing by?”
But look, too, at the fact that Jesus, having just told the disciples that He was about to be condemned to die, isn’t so wrapped up in Himself that He can’t hear the cries or see the needs of others. Even as He continues His journey toward the cross, His focus is not on alleviating His own suffering, but on being of service to others.
I’ve said many times that the Christian life is not about our comfort. Several years ago, my dear friend Gwen entered her reward after many years of battling ovarian cancer. From the onset, her doctors didn’t give her a very encouraging prognosis, but she refused to quit. She showed up for her chemotherapy and chose to be cheerful and uplifting to the other people who were there having treatment. She brought along stacks of note cards and wrote messages of encouragement to friends and church members who were going through their own difficulties. And in doing these things, she kept her focus off herself. No, she may not have been comfortable, but she was comforted through the power and strength and love of God’s precious Holy Spirit.
I pray this day and this week, you’re an encourager. And as we focus on Jesus’ journey to the cross, I hope you’ll think less and less of your own comfort and more and more about the needs of the people that surround you.
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 6
Let’s add yesterday’s info to our review:
(1) Lent is the 40-day (not an exact number because Sundays aren’t counted) period from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday begins the final week before Easter, also known as Holy Week.
(2) The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word LENCTEN, meaning “spring,” and from the Latin QUADRAGESIMA, meaning 40.
(3) Holy Week, the final days up to Easter Sunday, begins on Palm Sunday. And Palm Sunday recognizes the Sunday on which, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey.
(4) The first Lord’s Supper – also known as Communion, or the Eucharist – was celebrated on Thursday during the Jewish Passover.
(5) Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ establishment of the Lord’s Supper and of the MANDATUM NOVUM, or “new commandment:” “…love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (John 13:34, HCSB).
Which brings us to Good Friday. After the “Last Supper,” Jesus and His disciples went out to Gethsemane (which means “olive oil press”), a garden at the base of the Mount of Olives. There the Lord prayed, ending with the words of Matthew 26:42, a passage without which none of us could ever see the glories of heaven:
“My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
Jesus truly “loved the world” (John 3:16) enough to give “Himself – a ransom for all…” (I Timothy 2:6).
So it was on this Friday that Jesus was arrested, taken to the cross, and crucified. What’s “Good” about that? He answers our question in His own words from the cross:
“It is finished!” (John 19:30).
All that Jesus had come to do was complete! The bridge between fallen man and our Holy Creator had been completed! Then, on Easter Sunday, Jesus arose as the “guarantee” (see Hebrews 7:22) that every believer would live again in eternity with the Father; and, too, that each would experience a bodily resurrection. Let’s see how Paul explains it in First Corinthians 15:20-23:
“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, the people of Christ.”
What a time of celebration we’re about to enter into! What a Great Savior we have to celebrate! Have you told Him today how thankful you are? Have you told anyone else what He’s done for you, and for all who’ll believe in Him?
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 5
Okay, a really brief review and then on to Maundy Thursday:
(1) Lent is the 40-day (not counting Sundays) period from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday begins the final week before Easter, also known as Holy Week.
(2) The word “Lent” comes from the Old English word LENCTEN, meaning “spring,” and from the Latin QUADRAGESIMA, meaning 40.
(3) Holy Week, the final days up to Easter Sunday, begins on Palm Sunday. And Palm Sunday recognizes the Sunday on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.
(4) The first Lord’s Supper – also known as Communion, or the Eucharist – was celebrated on Thursday during the Jewish Passover.
So what is Maundy Thursday, besides the day before Good Friday? The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word MANDATUM, meaning “word in the ceremony.” Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus’ establishment of the Lord’s Supper and of the MANDATUM NOVUM, or “new commandment,” which was what? As they were gathered around the table, Jesus told His disciples:
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (John 13:34).
While different churches and denominations celebrate this day in different ways and some hold no special services for it, a frequent service is a reenactment of the washing of the disciples’ feet by the Lord Jesus. Why choose this particular act?
We read the account in John 13:12-17:
“When Jesus had washed their feet and put on His robe, He reclined again and said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord. This is well said, for I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you. I assure you: a slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’”
Servanthood is what the Christian life is all about. We are to obey Jesus and “…do just as [He] has done for [us].” It’s not about US, folks – it’s about Jesus; and His focus was never on Himself, but on meeting the needs of others.
If you claim His name, you are His “slave” and His “messenger.” You are walking like Jesus, you are talking like Jesus, and you are loving like Jesus.
“By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 4
So what have we learned so far about Mardi Gras and Lent? Let’s review and then add more information:
(1) What is known as the Epiphany, or Little Christmas, is celebrated on January 6 in recognition of the wise men who were the first Gentiles to worship the baby Jesus – and incidentally, the exact number of “the wise men,” or Magi, and the exact timeframe in which they came to Jesus isn’t made clear in the Scriptures.
(2) The time from the Epiphany to Fat Tuesday – also called Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras – was a time of feasting and celebration which leads us to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) was the final and grandest day of feasting before beginning the self-denials and fasting of Lent.
(2) Lent is the 40-day (not an exact number because Sundays aren’t counted) period from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday begins the final week before Easter, also known as Holy Week.
(3) Now we come to “Lent,” which is a word taken from the Old English word LENCTEN, meaning “spring,” and from the Latin QUADRAGESIMA, meaning 40. This period has traditionally been a time when believers prepare their hearts, minds, and spirits for Easter Sunday. It’s a time when many people choose to give up something they enjoy – like a favorite food or activity – as a way of recognizing the tremendous sacrifice made by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Holy Week, the final days up to Easter Sunday, begins on Palm Sunday. And what is Palm Sunday? This day recognizes the Sunday on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies – see Matthew 21:1-9; Isaiah 62:11; Zechariah 9:9; and Psalm 118:25-26.
The first Lord’s Supper – also known as Communion, or the Eucharist – was celebrated on Thursday during the Jewish Passover. We see the account in Matthew 26:26-30 after we read that “…the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover” (Matthew 26:19, HCSB).
When is Passover celebrated by the Jewish community? It’s celebrated for eight days by most Jews, with the exception of those who live in Israel; the majority of Reform Jews; and some Conservative Jews – these celebrate for seven days. This year, Passover will begin on the evening (sunset/nightfall) of Friday, March 30 and will last until the evening (sunset/nightfall) of Saturday, April 7.
While all of Holy Week is often observed in some churches with special services each day, two days in addition to Palm Sunday are of particular note: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Tomorrow we’ll take a deeper look at Maundy Thursday.
For today I hope you’re thinking about self-denial and praying about what to give up for Lent. And I hope you’re using this time to consider the fact that our entire lives are to be lived preferring the needs of others to our own.
“Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them” (Luke 6:31, Jesus speaking).
Copyright © 2018
Judy Woodward Bates
I hope you’ll hang with me as we look at the period of Mardi Gras, Lent, Easter, and Passover – you’re in seminary class! Today I want to wrap up our look at Mardi Gras and then begin a look at the 40-day pre-Easter period known as Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year is Valentine’s Day, February 14, while Easter is on April 1. In the Old Testament, ashes were placed on the body as a sign of mourning. In Esther 4:1-3 we see the Jewish people wearing sackcloth and ashes as they wept over King Ahasuerus’ order that would annihilate them. In Job 42:6, Job tells the Lord, “…I repent in dust and ashes” (HCSB).
Some early churches – and some still today – saved the palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration and then burned these to ash for Ash Wednesday. These ashes would then be used to mark the sign of the cross on the forehead of the believers who participated in their Lenten observation.
If you count the days from Ash Wednesday until Easter, you’ll find there are actually 46 days because Sundays aren’t counted since they aren’t days of fasting. Lent is considered a time to reflect on your relationship with the Lord, to prepare your heart to deeply celebrate the truth of Easter. It’s a time to especially examine your life, confess, and repent of any areas of sin, and focus on self-denial.
Since Jesus’ entire earthly life was one of self-denial, this is a wonderful time to choose one area in which to practice this. Many people give up a favorite food or activity, such as chocolate or watching television for the Lenten season. This self-denial is, of course, like any other religious practice, optional, but I can assure you that you’ll discover new growth and maturity through participating in this special time.
Think of something you would truly have a tough time giving up from Valentine’s Day until Easter. Then think of what Christ gave up for you. Let me challenge you to practice some sort of self-denial throughout the Lenten season. And every time you’re tempted to break your Lenten vow, think of Christ’s prayer to His Father in the Garden: “Not my will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR JANUARY 2
I want us to begin a look at the time period between Christmas and Easter (Resurrection Day). By starting this early, we’ll hopefully wrap up by Eastertime. First, I need to explain a little bit about Mardi Gras because, believe it or not, Mardi Gras actually began as a Christian celebration. The phrase “Mardi Gras” means “Fat Tuesday,” also called “Shrove Tuesday.” Traditionally, this was a day of huge feasting and celebration before Ash Wednesday, which began a time of strict fasting for Lent, the 40 days (not an exact number, however, due to the changing date of Easter) leading up to Easter Sunday. But let me back up a little.
The first traditional celebration after Christimas is on January 6, the Epiphany, or Little Christmas, said to be the date when the three wise men found the baby Jesus. Of course, scripture doesn’t support an exact time for the Magi’s arrival, but says: “Entering the house, they saw the child" (Matthew 2:11). This indicates it may have been as long as two years after Jesus’ birth before the wise men reached Him. And Herod’s edict (see Matthew 2:16) adds credence to this, in that he ordered the murder of all male children ages two and under.
From the date of the Epiphany until Fat Tuesday, celebrations were – and are today –abundant, and one thing you’ve probably seen during this time of “Mardi Gras” is colorfully iced ring-shaped cakes called “King” cakes. Inside the cake a tiny toy baby is always baked, so that one of the people eating the cake will find him. Although most people today have no idea what’s behind all this, the cake is called a “King” cake because the baby inside the cake represents Jesus, and finding this Baby represents the Magi, the first Gentiles, discovering the Savior, which is what the Epiphany recognizes.
And the circular shape of the cake? It signifies the connectedness, the oneness, of the family of Jesus Christ. The one who discovers the Christ Child has a responsibility to share Him with others. Thus the tradition that whoever finds the Baby brings the cake the next year.
How about that! So when “Mardi Gras” gets here, I hope you’ll use it as an opportunity to teach the truth about the celebration and King cake. In Mobile, Alabama (which is the original home of Mardi Gras) and New Orleans, Louisiana, Mardi Gras parades and activities abound. This year, why not bring a King cake to work or Bible class – or you could even have a cake and coffee get-together at your house – and explain the story behind the tradition.
See, when a person “discovers” Jesus, he’s to share Him with others – bringing the King cake. And when another person discovers Jesus – finds the Baby – it then becomes his responsibility to share Jesus, as in bringing the next year’s cake. The message of the King cake is simple enough for even small children to understand.
“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life - a ransom for many” (Jesus speaking, Mark 10:43b-45, HCSB).
Copyright © 2018Judy Woodward Bates
BIBLE PASSAGE FOR NEW YEAR'S DAY, JANUARY 1, 2018
Before we begin a new Bible study, I want to start this year off with a question: What do you believe? I have friends and relatives who are devout Christians, agnostics, and even flat-out atheists – the full range of belief and unbelief. Some of the professing Christians never attend church or talk about the Lord or the Bible, yet they’ll swim a flood-swollen river to get to their grandchildren’s ball game or ballet recital. Folks, if we believe Jesus is the only way to heaven, why aren’t we living it and teaching it?
We’ve all heard the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” How can we expect the upcoming generations to put their faith in Christ when we aren’t showing them the importance of – let alone the urgency of – doing just that? If we truly believe, it has to matter whether or not our children and grandchildren believe, too. If we believe we’ll spend eternity in heaven with Jesus Christ because we’ve put our faith in Him, don’t we realize no one else will get there who doesn’t do likewise? This year, more than ever before, love your children, grandchildren, and all your friends and family enough to tell them the truth about Jesus.
And for those who say “I don’t know what I believe” or “I don’t believe that stuff anymore,” my question for you is: Where do you believe that precious parent or grandparent who put their faith in Christ is now that he or she is no longer living on this earth?
You can’t have it both ways. Either heaven is real or it isn’t. Before going to the cross, Jesus told His followers, “I am going away to prepare a place for you… so that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2b, 3b, HCSB). If Jesus said it, I believe it. I know it to be true in my heart and in my soul. So many people I dearly love have gone on before me into heaven. When I leave this mortal body, I’ll be with them. I have that promise in writing: Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ “…will be with the Lord forever” (I Thes 4:17b, NIV).
But we also need to understand that if heaven is real – and it is – hell is also real. Many a person has asked, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” The answer is: He doesn’t. Jesus Himself makes it absolutely clear that hell is “…the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons” (Matthew 25:41b, NLT). So how does a human being end up there? The answer is found in Revelation 20:15: “…anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
So how do you get your name in the Book of Life? By committing your heart and life to Jesus, as in admitting you can’t fix yourself; confessing your need for a Savior; and asking Him to be the Lord of your life. And when you truly do that, your priorities change. Stuff, material possessions, etc. are no longer so important. Making sure the people you love know Jesus becomes an urgent desire or, as the prophet Jeremiah worded it, “… His word burns in my heart like a fire” (Jeremiah 20:9b).
I pray that you and I will use 2018 to live and love more fully like Jesus. I pray that the burning desire of our hearts is to see everyone we know and love come to Jesus. And let’s not stop with those we love; let’s do our part to get the message out to those we don’t even know. To the whole world. You, my friend, are one candle. Light where you are and where you go with the love of Jesus.
Judy Woodward Bates